Baltimore County receives lowest state funding in years

Schools to get $5 million

$2 million to go to parks

April 12, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

They asked for a little, and that's what they got.

Baltimore County lawmakers left Annapolis this week with the lowest funding totals for their home county in years.

The county, which requested $18 million for school construction, received $5 million, with the possibility of getting an additional $13 million next month when the state Board of Public Works meets. Compare that with $42 million a year ago.

The county asked for $21.2 million for park purchases and playground renovations. It got $2 million.

"It was probably a catch-our-breath year," said Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Catonsville Democrat. "We had done so well in the last several years. We had caught up with so many requests. There wasn't a lot of demand out there."

In January, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger released a decidedly limited agenda for the 13-week General Assembly session that ended Monday.

With the county behind on school building projects - about $61 million in state funds from the past two fiscal years was sitting unspent, according to state records - Ruppersberger was in no position to ask for much more.

And after a year of battling opponents of a highly contentious neighborhood revitalization program that relied on expanded government condemnation powers, Ruppersberger and the county legislative delegation wanted no controversial initiatives. Lawmakers approved the revitalization measure, Senate Bill 509, during the 2000 session, only to see voters overturn it 70 percent to 30 percent after an unprecedented grass-roots petition drive.

So the focus for 2001 shifted to parks and playgrounds and other lower-key projects and programs.

The county is poised to receive more parks money when a statewide $11 million fund is divided this summer. Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, called Baltimore County "very well positioned" to receive a healthy share of Community Parks and Playgrounds funds.

Ruppersberger has proposed spending $2.5 million to renovate 70 county playgrounds. County spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the county will make up the difference if state funding doesn't arrive. "We consider them as an essential community conservation project," she said.

Backed by schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, Ruppersberger wanted $1 million for two specialized teams of educators to work with foster school pupils. The state funded one team, at $500,000.

Other projects that received state funding include $400,000 for preservation of the Perry Hall Mansion; $500,000 to allow the Wellness Community to buy a permanent home to assist cancer patients and their families; $300,000 for the Community Learning Center in Woodlawn; and $250,000 for the Arrow Project, which serves foster children.

Still, Ruppersberger and other lawmakers declared victory. "Once again, we're grateful to our Annapolis delegation for helping us win funding for key initiatives," the executive said.

Del. James E. Malone Jr. of Arbutus, vice chairman of the county House delegation, said: "In my opinion, I think we did very well. Almost everything we asked for, we got."

Dewberry predicted that Baltimore County would return to an aggressive agenda next year and will be rewarded for its restraint.

"It will bode well for Baltimore County in the future," he said. "If we don't need it, we don't ask for it. We don't try to get unnecessarily greedy in the state budget, unlike some jurisdictions that I will not name."

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